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Festivals in Kathmandu | Festivals of Nepal


Festivals in Kathmandu | Festivals of Nepal

Kathmandu’s ancient and refined culture has been inspired by the convergence of the Hindu and Buddhist devotion of its inhabitants. The traditional customs, festivals, art and literature are all religious in character. The main fiestas the Kathmanduities observe with great pump and show are:

Bada Dashain (September-October)

It is truly the national festival of Nepal.  Every Nepai is stirred by the prospects of the joy this festival is supposed to bring with it.  The change of mood is also induced psychologically by the turn off autumn season after blue sky and a green carpet of fields.  The climate is also put ideal at this time, it is neither too cold nor too warm.  The Nepalese cherish their Dashain as a time for eating well and dressing well.  The whole festival lasts a total of ten days.  The first nine days are devoted to worship the goddess Durga Bhavani and her diverse manifestations.  Each house also sets up a shrine to worship the goddess at this time.  Barley seeds are planted on the first day in every household and nurtured for nine days.  During the nine days goddess Durga Bhavani is worshipped and offered a lot of blood sacrifice.  Buffaloes, goats and roosters are killed in thousands at the temples, at military posts and in every household.  One of the main centres that witnesses the animal sacrifice in a large scale at this time is the Hanuman Dhoka Palace at midnight of the eighth day.  On the concluding day of the festival called the tika, the elders of the family give tika and bestow blessing to their junior members and to other relatives who may also come to seek their blessing.  The fresh shoots of the barley known as ‘Jamara’ are also given to wear.  Family feasting and feasting of guests is a common practice at this time. 

Tihar: Festival of Lights (October-November)

This festival comes just after a fortnight of the departure of Dashain from the scene.  The earlier festival mood helped on by the turn of a genial weather continues to glow the mind of the Nepalese during this festival also.  The festivity lasts for five days and is marked by worship to different animals such as the crow, the dog and the cow on different days.  Perhaps the most endearing sight of this festival is presented by the illumination of the entire town with rows of tiny flickering lamps at the dusk on the day of Laxmi Puja.  In the evening of this day, the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, is worshipped at every household and it is in her welcome that myriads of lamps are burnt.  On the last day, sisters show their affection towards their brothers with the performance of a puja and feed them with delectable food.  They pray for their brother’s long life to Yama, the Hindu god of death.

Gaijatra (July-August)

In this festival teen-aged boys dressed up in the attire of a cow parade in the streets of the town.  This custom springs from the belief that cows help the members of the family, who have died within that year, to travel to heaven smoothly.  Some are also dressed up as an ascetic or a fool for achieving the same objective to their dead family members.  Groups of mimics improvise short satirical enactments on the current socio-political scenes of the town to the entertainment of the public.  The week beginning from Janai-poornima actually unfolds a season of good many religious and cultural activities.  All the Buddhist monasteries open their gates to the visitors to view their bronze sculptures and collection of painting for a week.  At Patan, one observes the festival of Mataya at this time.  The festivity of Gaijatra itself lasts for a week enlivened by the performance of dance and drama in the different localities of the town.  The spirit of the old festival is being increasingly adapted by cultural theatres, newspapers and magazines of fling humour and satire on the Nepalese social and political life.

Teej & Rishi Panchani (August-September)

Teej or Haritalika is purely a women’s festival.  These two days follow in close succession and are the days of observing religious fast for women folks of Nepal.  On the day of Teej all the women observe fasting for twenty-four hours for the longevity of their husbands’ life and go to visit the shrine of Pashupati and offer worship to Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati later in the evening.  The Panchami is mainly devoted to cleaning the body by taking ritual bath in rivers for any sin or impurity the women folks may have committed during the past year.  On this day women worship the seven Rishis in reminiscence of a high ascetic tradition of Hinduism and a notion of purity of descent in their lineage from the ancestral Rishis.  All women whose husbands are alive are seen wearing red garments invariable and decked in all sorts of jewellery on these two days.

Buddha Jayanti (Full moon day of April/May)

Buddha Jayanti is a great day for the Nepalese.  This day which falls on the full moon of the month of Baisakh is celebrated to commemorate the birth, attainment of enlightenment and the death of Gautama Buddha, the founder preacher of Buddhism, more than 2500 Years ago.  It is a thrice-blessed day.  It is the day when Buddha was born, when he was enlightened and when he got Nirvana (Salvation). Prayers are sung and worship is offered by the devotees in leading Buddhist shrines throughout the country including Lumbini in the Rupandehi district, which is the birthplace of Lord Buddha, ‘the Light of Asia’.  There is a great fair held in Lumbini on this day.

Seto Machchhendranath(March-April)

This is a four-day chariot festival held in honour of the White (Seto) Machchhendranath (to be distinguished from the Red (Rato) form of the same divinity in Patan), who is actually the Padmapani Lokeshwara, whose permanent shrine is situated at Janabahal in Kel Tole in the middle of the old bazaar in Kathmandu.  A huge chariot of wood supported on four large wheels and carrying a tall spire covered with green foliage is made ready for receiving the image of the divinity on this occasion and for dragging in the old part of city.  There is such a spontaneous and heavy turn out of the devout people to pay obeisance of this god, who is also said to be the ’embodiment of compassion’, at this time.

Ghodejatra (March-April)

Ghodejatra or the festival of horse is held on-the fourteenth of the dark half of the Chaitra (sometime in March or April).  The festival has two sides of its celebration.  Its cultural side involves the Newars of Kathmandu who celebrate it for several days.  The idols of the gods of many localities are taken in a procession in their area in portable chariots.  Every household is feasting at this time.  A demon called ‘Gurumumpa’ is also propitiated at this time in Tundikhel.  This festival is called Pahachare.  The other aspect of the festival is provided by the function organised by the Nepalese Army at  Tundikhel in the afternoon of the main day.  Horse race and acrobatic shows are presented at this time in which the president, PM and other dignitaries are present.  A meeting of Lumadi, Bhadrakali, Kankeshwari and Bhairav takes place during the day time at the main celebration at Ason.  The deities are brought in their portable chariots.  The same festival is repeated at night in Tundikhel.

Festivals in Bhaktapur | Jatras in Bhaktapur

Biska Jatra (Mid April):  

Celebrated for nine days.The only exceptional festival that is celebrated as per the official solar calendar in Nepal is Biska Jatra. Celebrated for none consecutive days in Bhaktapur, the former capital city, the festival bids farewell to the old year and greets a new one. The festival sees the climas with the erection and puling down of Yosin, the ceremonial pole, at the city outskirt named after that very pole, Yoisn-khyo (khyo in Nepalbhasa or Newari means an open space). 

Mata-tirtha Aunsi/ Mother’s Day (April):  

The retention of festivals in Bhaktapur owes much to its slow pace towards urbanization and the so-called modernity. Its relative seclusion from the “too-urban-Kathmandu” has also helped it retain its cultural glory. Had it braced urbanization in the same rapidity as its two “rival” neighbors – Kathmandu and Lalitpur-did, many of those popular festivals would already have vanished in the thickness of concrete jungle. Let us take the well – acclaimed Nava Durga dance for example. This dance eulogies Asta Matrika, the eight mother goddesses, who supposedly sit around the city’s eight corners to give watchful guard on it. It is staged all throughout the old city area in turn, which goes from January till June, closely following the lunar calendar. The places and the lunar dates of its staging are specific with no rooms of alteration. So, had the cityscape changed giving way to whatever the reason, the Nava Durga dance too would have succumbed to the so-called modernity the same way as many of similar dances did in neighboring Kathmandu and Lalitpur. Similarly many other festivals, especially those which are observed outdoors, would also have gone down the history lanes. Biska Jatra (chariot festival, April), Sa-paru or the ‘festival of Cows’ (a full moon day when all bereaved families go around a prescribed route in the city; July-August), Gath-muga (a new-moon festival when straw-made effigies of malevolent demon are dragged out to and burnt down at city outskirt, August) and Nasaa-bwojyaa (a full moon festival when the first grains of cereals are displayed and offered to divinities; takes place immediately after the harvesting season in October)are some of the major festivals which could not have resisted the onslaught of urbanization. But thanks to people’s obsession towards their age-old tradition and less influence of the so- called modernity, those festivals are still observed with same old fervour and flavour, making their Bhaktapur truly a “Living Heritage”. 

Buddha Jayanti/Swanya Punhi (May):  

The festival celebrates the three greatest events in Buddhism, the birth of the Buddha, his attainment of Enlightenment 35years later, and his passing away at the age of 80, all on the same full moon day in May. Ornate images to the Apostle of peace are displayed and taken around the city amidst traditional music and much celebration. 

Sithi Nakha (May-June):  

The festival marks the day allocated for cleaning wells. Cleaning wells was made part of the religious calendar because at one time they were one of the main sources of drinking water for the populace. The palanquin of goddess Bhagavati is taken around Taumadhi Square of the day. 

Nag Panchami (July-August):  

On this day milk is served to serpent deities and colorful portraits of snakes are pasted above doorways, all in hope of appeasing the gods and getting plenty of rain in the approaching season of paddy cultivation. 

Saparu/Gai Jatra(July-August):  

Initiated in Kathmandu during the 15th century to console a bereaved queen, the festival sees a parade of colorful cow floats as well as children dressed like the sacred animal proceed around the city. All Hindu families who have lost family member during the past one year are required to go around the prescribed route in the city. 

Gathamuga (August):  

During this festival straw made effigies of the malevolent demon Gathamuga are made at all the neighborhoods of Bhaktapur. These are then taken outside the city and burnt to symbolize the end of malefic forces, which have built up in the city over the preceding months. 

Yenya Punhi (September – October):  

The three day festival is noted for the parade of Airavat, the elephant vehicle of Indra the king of all gods and goddess, who chases a demon that is harassing the locals with his demonic acts. 

Mohani/Dashain (October):  

Mohani the greatest festival of Hindus, commemorates the victory of righteousness over the force of evil. Observed for 15 consecutive days, it sees sacrifices of the buffalos, goats and cocks all symbolizing Mahishasur, the buffalo headed demon who was slain at the hand of Goddess Bhagavati. Besides the feasting and frolicking the festival alos sees crowds of devotes going around the shrines of the city’s nine protective mother goddess. 

Swonti/Tihar(October-November):  

Tihar is celebrated for five days. Also called the festival of lights for the illumination all through the five days, it prays for the good of all living beings, while the first two days sees worships of crows and dogs, the third day sees adoration of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. The fourth day the new year day according to Nepal Era- sees cultural processions taken around extending good wishes to all. The last day is for brothers, for whom sisters pray and wish for a long, healthy and prosperous. 

Nava-Durga Dance (November-April):  

The city is unique and so is its Nava durga dance. Staged at different streets and squares in rotation, the tantrically inspired dance form symbolize the motherly care taken by Nava durga, the nine protective mother goddesses to the city and its pious dwellers. 


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